DuPage County given power to disband election commission

 
 
Updated 7/23/2018 2:53 PM
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  • Gov. Bruce Rauner signs House Bill 5123 during a Monday ceremony in Wheaton attended by DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, County Clerk Paul Hinds, several county board members and some state lawmakers. The measure allows the county board to merge the local election commission with the county clerk's office.

      Gov. Bruce Rauner signs House Bill 5123 during a Monday ceremony in Wheaton attended by DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, County Clerk Paul Hinds, several county board members and some state lawmakers. The measure allows the county board to merge the local election commission with the county clerk's office. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Gov. Bruce Rauner visited Wheaton on Monday to sign legislation that allows DuPage to merge the election commission with the county clerk's office.

      Gov. Bruce Rauner visited Wheaton on Monday to sign legislation that allows DuPage to merge the election commission with the county clerk's office. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Gov. Bruce Rauner, right, and DuPage County Clerk Paul Hinds attend a ceremony Monday in Wheaton to sign legislation to disband the DuPage Election Commission and put its operation under the direction of the clerk.

      Gov. Bruce Rauner, right, and DuPage County Clerk Paul Hinds attend a ceremony Monday in Wheaton to sign legislation to disband the DuPage Election Commission and put its operation under the direction of the clerk. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation Monday to allow the DuPage County Board to dissolve its election commission and transfer its functions to the county clerk's office effective Jan. 1.

"Today is another good step forward for taxpayers in the state of Illinois," Rauner said during a signing ceremony at the county complex in Wheaton.

Rauner said DuPage, which has been eliminating units of government in recent years, is a model for what counties statewide can do to reduce property taxes.

"We suffer in Illinois from some of the highest property taxes in America," he said. "And it's not a coincidence that we also have more units of local government than any state in America."

The DuPage clerk's office was stripped of its election oversight power in the early 1970s to create the election commission. The state law that formed the commission required both major political parties to be represented on a three-person election panel; Republicans currently hold two of the three seats.

But there have been serious problems during the past three elections, including a blunder that delayed results for hours during the March primary.

Election oversight is one of the most visible functions of county government, county board Chairman Dan Cronin said, and folding the election commission into the clerk's office is a more efficient and accountable system.

"Statewide, 98 percent of the county clerks currently administer local elections," Cronin said. "We expect the consolidation of these two offices will save hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars annually, and will put us on our way toward eliminating a total of seven units of local government right here in DuPage County."

Before seeking the state law change, county board members sought voter input in an advisory referendum question. Roughly 56 percent of voters in March supported the nonbinding ballot question to dissolve the commission.

Now that the legislation has been signed, the county board is expected to vote to formally disband the commission in January.

The clerk's office sends property tax bills and handles other documents such as birth certificates, marriage licenses and death certificates. It has about 18 employees.

Paul Hinds, a Republican, runs the clerk's office. Democrat Jean Kaczmarek is challenging him in the fall election.

Kaczmarek for years has called for the election commission to merge with the clerk's office. The Glen Ellyn resident issued a statement saying the time has come.

"If you ask 100 county clerks in Illinois what their number one responsibility was, he or she would reply: Administering the electoral process," Kaczmarek said.

If re-elected, Hinds said he would explore "new cost-effective ways to conduct elections."

"I will look forward to a smooth transition moving the duties from the election commission to the county clerk's office," Hinds said. "And I will work with the chairman and the county board to administer secure and accountable elections."

The election commission has about 23 employees and pays the salaries of the three election commissioners, who each receive $27,500 a year.

Joseph Sobecki, the executive director of the commission, abruptly resigned last week. Suzanne Fahnestock has been appointed the interim executive director.

Even with the consolidation, election commission officials said a search will be conducted for a permanent executive director. Whoever is hired is expected to work for the clerk's office under a different job title after the transition.

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